A Second Amendment Story That Should Not Be Allowed to Die

In 2000, an Emory University professor undertook a study and a book entitled Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture. The author was David Bellesiles.

The thesis of the book was that after conducting extensive study of 18th Century probate records, the evidence revealed that gun ownership in America at the time the Constitution was being drafted was extremely low, less than 15%. Bellesiles further contended that gun ownership in America did not become prevalent until on the eve of the Civil War, or about 75 years later. Thus, argued Bellesiles, and a large portion of the progressive academic community, conservative theories about an individual right were severely damaged by this “truth.”

Indeed, in 2001, Columbia University awarded the book the distinguished Bancroft Award, and the book in general was regarded as a mighty arrow in the quiver of gun control advocates.

But then the wheels began to come off. The NRA doubted the research. Charlton Heston called the book’s conclusions “ludicrous.” An amateur historian, Clyde Cramer, began to cast doubt on the research, and then in 2002, a Northwestern Law School professor, James Lindgren, heavily researched the probate records relied upon by Bellesiles, and published a serious law review article at William and Mary, refuting Bellesiles’ findings. Finally, Emory formed a three-professor panel from outside Emory (Princeton, Univ. of Chicago, and Harvard) to review the book and the research. The professors found that the book was “deeply flawed.” (Bellesiles claimed that his notes were destroyed in a flood and never provided them to the panel.)

Columbia rescinded the Bancroft Award and by the end of 2002, Bellesiles was discredited and resigned from Emory.

The story should have ended there, but it doesn’t. There are countless lectures available on YouTube relating to the Constitution and the Second Amendment. Many are high quality. For example, I commend Yale’s Akhil Reed Amar to you. Individual rights theorists won’t necessarily like what he has to say, but we shouldn’t need everyone to agree with us. While I was rowing the other day, I watched a video lecture presented by Dr. David Adler. The lecture was presented at the Coeur d’Alene, Idaho Public Library on May 15, 2015 and was sponsored by the library, The Idaho Humanities Council, and the Coeur d’Alene Press. I’m providing the link in the comments below. (I disagree with massive portions of the video, but we should be listening to the other side all the time.)

As I exercised and watched, I was surprised to see Dr. Adler presenting Bellesile’s thesis. Adler didn’t cite to Bellesile or the book, but he did claim that colonial ownership was around 10%! He admitted that perhaps it was higher, but the point was the same. It was the same thesis: guns didn’t become prevalent until long after the Constitution was written. Wrong. This number, which is even lower than Bellesile’s, was debunked in Professor Lindgren’s research. That’s right, the actual number used by Adler in his lecture was even lower than that put forth by Bellesile. Nonsense.

Here’s what Professor Lindgren found:

“We also provide the first weighted regional estimates of colonial gun ownership: 69% in the South, 50% in New England, and 41% in the Middle colonies. Given that these counts are based on incomplete probate inventories, unless nudity was also widely practiced,these gun counts are likely to be substantial underestimates.” ¬†James Lindgren and Justin L. Heather, Counting Guns in Early America, 43 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 1777 (2002), http://scholarship.law.wm.edu/wmlr/vol43/iss5/2

Don’t believe what you hear and read. Want to learn more? Join me at Stonewall Range on December 8, 2016 from 6:30pm -8:30pm. The class is $15 and you can register here: http://guniq.training/product/second-amendment-introduction/.

Defend Yourself (and your Constitution).

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